Mental health

We all know about depression and anxiety these days, but the Cluster B personality disorders are less well known. However these are the people likely to end up in court proceedings. The most common cluster B personality disorders are:

  • narcissistic personality disorder
  • antisocial personality disorder (sociopaths/psychopaths)
  • borderline personality disorder

and individuals with all of these disorders will have narcissistic traits so please also read the page on divorcing a narcissist.


Narcissism is more than just selfishness. Narcissistic individuals tend to be self-absorbed and unable to listen to others’ differing perspectives. Instead they hyper-focus on what they themselves want, think, feel and believe without taking into consideration others’ desires and ideas. They tend to be manipulative, and totally lacking in empathy.

There are several different types of narcissist, including the covert narcissist. The ‘poor me’ person plays the victim and makes it harder to spot them and harder for the court to know who is the victim and who the perpetrator.

The term narcissist is rooted in Greek mythology, and it comes from the story of Narcissus. Narcissus literally fell in love with his own reflection, and it resulted in his demise.
Although there are many narcissists out there, not all of them are the same. Also, narcissism is on a spectrum with a healthy self-esteem at one end, and full-blown narcissistic personality disorder at the other.

Narcissists always need to prove that they are “winners” in comparison to other people they view as “losers,” though their methods vary depending on the type of narcissist. Of course this does not bode well for family court proceedings which are adversarial and a narcissist’s dream venue. Some of them love the drama of the court room but all of them are determined to win at all costs.

You may recognise your ex in one or more of the following snapshots as there is a lot of overlap between the different types of narcissistic behaviour. Each type can be male or female.

The know-it-all narcissist

  • believes they are the most intelligent and best informed person
  • is always eager to give their opinion and unsolicited advice
  • their opinions become fact, no matter how much evidence proves them wrong
  • is ‘preachy’, likes to lecture and finds it hard to listen

The grandiose narcissist

  • has the “look at me” mindset often seen in children
  • sees himself as more important, better looking and more influential
  • boasts about his own accomplishments
  • wants to elicit your envy or admiration
  • believes himself to be one step up even from his friends and peers
  • believes he is destined for great things
  • won’t feel grateful and will do nothing to help you unless there’s something in it for him.
  • will discard you without a second thought if necessary
  • when not bragging about himself is putting everyone else down
  • is rude and cruel about people and ignores or does not even notice how others react to it

The winner

  • places themself above everyone else
  • feeds their own self-image by feeling superior to others
  • makes even the smallest of tasks a competition
  • friendship, parenting, or even spirituality becomes competitive
  • does not care what others think of him

The seductive narcissist

  • manipulates you by making you feel good about yourself
  • appears to admire or even idealise you
  • wants your support and admiration and will flatter you in order to get it
  • gives you the cold shoulder when she has no further use for you

The bullying narcissist

  • builds himself up by humiliating other people
  • relies on contempt to make others feel like losers, proving himself a winner in the process
  • belittles and mocks you
  • may become threatening when he needs something from you
  • makes you doubt yourself and your value as a human being

The victim

  • is sneaky and often hard to identify, but is a master manipulator
  • uses affection to feed her narcissism
  • looks for situations that allow her to be portrayed as the underdog
  • has her sob story perfected
  • will never take any responsibility for her own misfortune or improving her situation
  • makes people feel guilty in order to get their support

The vindictive narcissist

  • will try to destroy you
  • maligns you to friends and family
  • might try to get you fired
  • might try to turn your children against you
  • might spend years using the family court to continue their abuse

The controlling narcissist

  • can’t handle it when things don’t go according to plan
  • manipulates anyone involved using a variety of different tactics
  • skilfully identifies a person’s weak spot and uses it
  • has no concept of empathy, integrity, or personal space
  • does not really have friends or even understand the relationship

The antagonist

  • always has an enemy
  • screams at other drivers on the road
  • berates and criticises staff in restaurants and shops
  • leaves notes for people who bother them
  • always believes they are in the right
  • is unable to sustain healthy relationships and may have had to leave jobs due to office disputes

The status-absorbed

  • defines their self-worth through the validation of others, and has no internal sense of themselves
  • puts all their energy into accumulating money, power, and popularity, no matter how materialistic they have to be
  • may have many debts

The covert narcissist

  • feels incredibly entitled but is much more insecure than other types
  • what others think of them is the most important thing to them
  • doesn’t say ‘I am special’ but feels special by association with a person/religion/book/designer dress etc
  • usually has self-doubt and is looking for the person they can idealise
  • behaves in a passive-aggressive way
  • may say they will do something but not do it, and then get a kick out of other people’s reactions
  • makes themself look like the victim
  • needs an audience to feel empathy for them
  • delays their response to challenges
  • is in control of their emotions
  • gaslights by saying one thing and doing another until their partner starts to question reality and feels as if they are going crazy
  • blames their partner for things they didn’t do, but the partner can end up believing it because their sense of the world has become so warped
  • may be charismatic and kind in public but abusive and cruel behind closed doors

The toxic or malignant narcissist

  • craves chaos and destruction
  • wants everyone else to feel inferior
  • tends to be sadistic and enjoy hurting other people, thriving on their fear
  • finds it entertaining to set people up and watch them fall
  • thrives on feeling that they have created havoc for someone else
  • spins different issues and different dramas with people
  • says they hate drama but are in the middle of it every time

Sociopaths and Psychopaths: Antisocial Personality Disorder

The formal term for both sociopaths and psychopaths is antisocial personality disorder, but it’s not antisocial in the way we usually think of it, ie hiding away and not being sociable. It means they don’t conform to the normal rules of social behaviour ie they show no regard for right and wrong and ignore the rights and feelings of others. They don’t have feelings, or care about yours, but they can be brilliant actors and are certainly capable of expressing feelings.

Psychopaths are more extreme versions of sociopaths, and more likely to be in the criminal justice system.

Here are some of the signs of an antisocial personality disorder:

  • charming and charismatic
  • uses humour, flattery, intellect, or flirtation to get what they want
  • lacking in empathy: cold, unfeeling, critical, harsh
  • fails to respect boundaries, rules or laws: lies, cheats, steals
  • may be in constant trouble or in and out of prison
  • never apologises
  • physically or verbally abusive or aggressive towards people
  • cruel to animals
  • problems with drink or drugs
  • poor or abusive relationships
  • manipulative
  • invents outrageous lies about their experiences
  • acts impulsively without considering the consequences
  • engages in life-threatening activities without considering their own safety or the safety of others

As you can see from the above, some sociopaths and psychopaths can be dangerous though not all are – some are highly productive and respected members of society (even though it may be a different story behind closed doors), while others can’t hold down a job.

It’s important that you know what you’re dealing with and the level of danger you may be in when you leave your relationship as the time around separation is always the most dangerous time. You may need to plan your leaving like a military operation to ensure your safety and that of your children.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

These people have difficulty in regulating their emotions and behaviour and their excessively intense emotion often gets expressed as anger.

They tend to have major difficulties with relationships, especially with those closest to them. Their wild mood swings, angry outbursts, chronic abandonment fears, and impulsive and irrational behaviours can leave a partner feeling helpless, abused, and off-balance.

BPD is often accompanied by other disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, an eating disorder, or substance abuse. A partner with BPD may be extremely sensitive, so small things can trigger intense reactions. Once upset, borderline people are often unable to think straight or calm themselves in a healthy way. They may say hurtful things or act out in dangerous or inappropriate ways.

If you relate to any of the following your ex could have BPD:

  • you feel like you’re walking on eggshells watching everything you say or do for fear of setting them off. you may hide what you think or feel to avoid a fight or hurt feelings.
  • your ex has almost instant mood swings which are unpredictable and irrational, e.g. calm one moment, raging with anger the next, then suddenly despondent.
  • your ex sees you as all good or all bad with no middle ground. for example, you’re either “perfect,” and the only one they can count on, or you’re “selfish” and “unfeeling” and “never truly loved them”.
  • you feel as though you can’t win, as anything you say or do will be twisted and used against you – and as their expectations are always changing you never quite know what to do to prevent the next eruption.
  • you are constantly blamed and criticised for things that don’t even make sense, or accused of saying and doing things you didn’t say or do. everything is always your fault and you’re misunderstood if you try to explain or reassure your ex.
  • you feel manipulated by fear, guilt, or outrageous behaviour, or your ex makes threats, flies into violent rages, makes dramatic declarations, or does dangerous things when they know you’re unhappy or saying you’ll leave
  • your ex may self-harm or be suicidal

Please note

You cannot diagnose anyone with a personality disorder from something you’ve read on-line. If you’re in court proceedings I would warn you against mentioning any of these personality disorders, however sure you are that your ex has one of them, as it will go against you. I have given these little snapshots as I think it is helpful to know what you’re dealing with, and to realise that it’s not you who is the problem but your ex. But if you mention this to Cafcass or the court it will not go down well (even if you are a psychiatrist, you can’t diagnose your ex) so just keep focusing attention on the bad behaviour and the effect on your child.

If you have lived with one of these “Cluster B’s” please also read the page on abusive relationships.

Recommended reading: The Empathy Trap – Understanding Antisocial Personalities – by Dr Jane McGregor, is a really helpful book.

Divorce Consultant Diana Jordan

You might also be interested in reading the ‘Legal Structure of Divorce’ a two-minute guide to divorce proceedings.

A Better Way of Dealing with Divorce: book